Safety planning and suicide intervention

Suicide and suicidal behaviour touches the lives of many people in our community, but there are ways we can all intervene.

Prevalence of suicide

Between 2001 and 2017 there were 419 suicides in serving, reserve & ex-serving ADF personnel who have served since 2001. Between 2002–2017 the age-adjusted rate of suicide was:

  • 18% higher in ex-serving men than the Australian male population
  • 48% lower for serving and reserve men than the Australian male population
  • 2.15 times higher for ex-serving women than the Australian female population.

More information on the prevalance of veteran suicide is available from the AIHW report.

Risk factors / warning signs

Observable and strong signs of a suicidal crisis needing immediate attention are when someone is:

  • threatening to hurt or kill themselves 
  • looking for the means (gun, pills, rope, etc.) to kill themselves
  • talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.

Call 000. Do not leave the person alone.

Indications of suicide where professional help is needed are someone showing signs of:

  • hopelessness
  • persistent crying
  • loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • acting reckless/engaging in risky activities
  • feeling trapped (like there is no way out)
  • increasing alcohol or drug use
  • anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep/sleeping all the time
  • giving away possessions
  • dramatic changes in mood
  • no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life.

Seek professional help, including referral to Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) on 1800 011 046. 

Protective factors

Protective factors can be seen as the actions or efforts a person can take to reduce the negative impact of issues like mental health problems, transition from military life or isolation from friends and family.

Positive steps can be made by someone experiencing such issues or you could support someone to take these positive steps to make changes in their life to protect against suicide.

There are many protective factors that can help to reduce the risk of suicide. Some important ones are:

  • staying connected to community
  • having significant others or someone to share concerns with, and to care for
  • physical and mental health
  • a strong sense of self-worth and hope for the future
  • a sense of personal control 
  • resilience (being able to bounce back from challenges in life)
  • safe and stable housing 
  • opportunities to participate meaningfully in work, leisure or community groups
  • financial security
  • spirituality and belief

Not all of these will be relevant to every individual, but some will be relevant for most people. 

Screening tools for assessing risk of suicide

Safeside prevention Prevention-Oriented Risk Formulation

Safeside is a framework for recovery-oriented suicide prevention that focuses on evidence-based care connected with the client's needs. The intervention plans are developed through risk formulations that include: 

  1. the patient’s risk relative to a specified sub-population
  2. the patient’s risk compared to their baseline or other specified time points
  3. available resources that the patient can draw on in a crisis
  4. foreseeable changes that may exacerbate risk, e.g substance use, relationship change, child custody etc

Safeside safety planning is more dynamic in that it develops specific contingency plans if these foreseeable changes occur.

Visit Safeside, or learn more via the article Reformulating suicide risk formulation

Open Arms clinicians can access screening tools from our clinical practice software, VERA online.

Safety planning apps

A safety plan is for people to use when they are feeling unsafe or suicidal – a plan to refer to and remind themselves of reasons to live, family and friends they can talk to or activities to do when they are feeling vulnerable.

Open Arms safety planner Operation Life

The safety planning app provides personalised access to relevant emergency, professional and personal support networks. It includes positive reminders and self-help tools to help people regain control, keep calm and take action to stay safe. The app contains web links to relevant online resources on suicide awareness, and counselling numbers for the veteran community. The app is recommended to be used with the support of a clinician. The supporting Clinicians Guide provides an overview of the app and a step-by-step guide to help clinicians’ set-up and use the app with their clients. The Clinician's Guide is available for Android or iOS users.

Visit our Operation life app page to find out more.

Beyond Now

Beyond Blue has developed Beyond Now, a suicide safety planning app that provides a convenient way for people to develop a personalised safety plan. It can be updated or edited anytime and offers the option of sharing it with support people.

Visit Beyond Blues Beyond Now app page to find out more.

Treatment services for veterans

Open Arms complex case management

Case management is available to serving and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force, and their families who may have complex needs. Case management replaces a haphazard process of referrals with a single, well-structure service,  offering continuity and stability. The single point of contact case manager is familiar with the protocols and operating procedures offered by other health professionals and agencies. As well as informal networks and resources that may not be identified in formal service directories.

Pathways to refer clients to Open Arms is presented on our referral page.

DVA rehabilitation  

Complementary to primary and allied health treatment, DVA provides whole-of-person rehabilitation to eligible veterans. Rehabilitation can assist individuals coordinate their medical treatment, assist individuals maximise their independent functioning and quality of life, and return to work when they are ready. Veterans may be eligible for rehabilitation assistance through DVA if they are incapacitated for service or work, or have an impairment, as a result of a service injury or disease.

Under a rehabilitation plan with psychosocial goals, veterans can access support to help address psychosocial challenges that may be impacting on their family, connections with others, resilience and overall quality of life.

Psychosocial activities under a rehabilitation plan may include:

  • intervention counselling or self-management programs to support relationships with others, provide the veteran with strategies to build resilience, or manage and adapt to their health conditions more effectively
  • connecting the veteran with local community supports, services or programs, or
  • supporting the veteran to participate in local activities and programs - this could include, undertaking time-limited short course education to assist them to better engage with their community, or where this participation may be a ‘first step’ achievement in their long term recovery.

More information about DVA rehabilitation is available online.

Group treatment programs

Open Arms offers a variety of evidence based group treatment programs and educational workshops on a range of topics such as anger, anxiety, PTSD and depression. These groups are free to Open Arms clients and are delivered nationally to small groups face-to-face, led by highly skilled facilitators with military awareness.

Open Arms suicide intervention workshops are also available to family, friends, co-workers or others in the veteran community who wish to recognise warning signs for suicide, and learn intervention strategies.

Trauma recovery programs

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs funds Trauma Recovery Programs – in hospitals across Australia. These programs are required to meet DVA’s National accreditation Standards for Trauma Recovery Programs – PTSD (2015). These standards provide a framework for ensuring that hospitals provide high quality evidenced based treatment for veterans and former serving members of the ADF who have PTSD. A list of hospitals is provided on our referral page.

See also

  • worried about someone else

    Suicide awareness

    The factors that can lead someone to suicide can be complex and often involve a mixture of causal and circumstantial risk factors. There are many factors in our lives that can help to protect us and others against suicide.
  • Treatment programs and workshops

    Open Arms offers group treatment programs and educational workshops, relationship retreats, and suicide prevention workshops.
  • Operation life logo

    OP Life app

    The Operation Life mobile application is designed to help those at risk deal with suicidal thoughts and is recommended to be used with the support of a clinician.